The Obama administration will sue Arizona for trying to help Washington enforce federal immigration laws, but flatly rejects the notion of suing sanctuary cities that blatantly defy those same laws. That announcement two weeks ago revealed the hypocrisy and utter contempt for the rule of law rampant in Eric Holder’s Justice Department.
It was the latest example of the Department letting partisan politics, rather than the interests of justice and the impartial enforcement of the law, drive its legal decisions. In this instance, it both threatens national security and undermines public confidence in our legal system.
The very weakness of the Department’s legal arguments in the Arizona suit betrays its political genesis. As the brief filed on behalf of Arizona by nine other states persuasively argues, Arizona is not interfering with federal authority: it has neither created new categories of aliens nor attempted to independently determine the immigration status of aliens. Arizona’s law simply requires local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of individuals arrested for other reasons. This is exactly the regulatory scheme of concurrent enforcement envisioned by federal immigration law.
The Justice Department’s suit directly contradicts the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Muehler v. Mena. In that case, all nine justices upheld the right of local police officers to question a detained individual’s immigration status while a search warrant was being executed. The suit also flies in the face of Estrada v. Rhode Island, in which the First Circuit Court of Appeals this February upheld a state trooper’s questioning of immigration status during a traffic stop. This is the exact policy being implemented in Arizona.
Federal courts have long upheld the power of state law enforcement officers to arrest those who violate federal law, as long as it is also a violation of state law, including immigration laws. The inherent authority of local police to arrest immigration violators was outlined in 2002 in a legal memorandum issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. Yet Attorney General Holder has filed a lawsuit making claims completely at odds with an opinion issued by his own department.